There’s something about Thanksgiving that brings back memories of my childhood, more so even than Christmas. I consider myself to be blessed to have lived in America when it was a symbol of stability and freedom to people everywhere.
As the world continues its sociological supernova, I find myself increasingly saddened by the fact that none of my children will ever have the opportunity to experience the America of my youth. Make no mistake about it, computers, smartphones, and all the other space-age technology that we take for granted are wonderful tools. They make things so much more convenient and entertaining, but, as with everything in life, there’s a tradeoff.
Actually, there are many tradeoffs, but the most glaring one is the loss of innocence. I’ve long maintained that the 1950s were the pinnacle of America’s greatness — not militarily, but sociologically. And looking at it more objectively today, I believe a big part of that innocence was made possible by ignorance — blissful, mind-numbing ignorance.
Of course, there were many people who didn’t share my experience — e.g., not all minorities had the opportunities they enjoy today. But this article isn’t about minorities, justice, or politics. All these are important subjects, to be sure — and millions of articles have been written about them — but they just don’t happen to be the subject of this particular article.
This article is about life as viewed through the eyes of a semi-privileged white kid who believed that Columbus, Ohio was the center of the universe and that both life and youth were eternal. In the 1950s, everything stood still and every day was predictable. My parents, my siblings, my friends, my house, my school, Ohio State football — nothing was ever going to change. Life was static.
It would be impossible for today’s youth to imagine, or understand, the innocence of the 1950s. As far as I knew, drugs didn’t exist in my little version of Peyton Place. Nor was there such a thing as political correctness. And as to gay issues, the only time I ever recall hearing the word gay was in the verse “Don we now our gay apparel.”
Girls? I guess there were a few who were a bit on the risqué side, but the vast majority of them could fit comfortably into a Dick Clark audience — well groomed, prim, and proper. In retrospect, they were almost like automatons — cashmere sweaters, saddle shoes, and short, sculptured hairstyles featuring soft curls and waves.
For me, going to school every day was like walking into a candy store, and I had a really bad sweet tooth.
A couple examples of typical Peyton Place High School girls.
I’m sorry to say that I never got very far with either of them.
Had a girl come to school with an earring attached to any part of her body other than an ear (none ever did), she would have been expelled from school. Pregnancy? The thought never occurred to me until a sophomore girl got pregnant and created one of the biggest scandals in our school’s history. Her expulsion was swift, and it was a one-time event.
Finally, along came Elvis, who unknowingly laid the foundation for the sexual and cultural revolution that was to explode onto the scene in the sixties, and things have never been the same since. But those of us who were raised in the Age of Innocence tended to ignore the steadily increasing base behavior of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, because we were focused on getting ahead in life.
Then, in the nineties, there seemed to be a slowdown in America’s cultural disintegration as the dot.com hotshots — led by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — became the rock stars of a new generation. But in the new century, Americans and the rest of the Western world took the good life for granted and, as a result of the Internet, became so knowledgeable about their “rights” (both real and imagined) that every law, every institution, and every certitude became a protest target.
So here we are, well into the 21st century, and the number-one product America produces is grievance. And it’s greatest collective demand is for more and more “diversity.” These are the two phenomena that most separate the protected little fantasy world I grew up in from today’s unstable, angry, entitlement-based world.
Diversity is a commodity that was in short supply in the fifties, and, as a result, America was a pretty peaceful place. Whether someone was born in Italy, Ireland, China, or India, he assimilated into American culture because he loved the idea of becoming a true American.
I remember one kid in our school who was of Egyptian descent, and he was as American as I was. Ditto with a Chinese classmate of mine who was culturally in synch with everyone else in the class. It was a true melting pot, not a diversity pot.
Now, I can just “hear” some readers thinking, “But doesn’t a lack of diversity make life boring? Why would you want everyone to think alike?” I’m not advocating that people think alike. I’m just saying that when a large majority of a population believes in a generally accepted code of conduct, it results in a more peaceful, more civilized, happier society. That’s a self-evident reality.
By the same token, within a society’s generally accepted code of conduct, it’s fine for everyone to think their own thoughts and have their own opinions — but back in the day, the foundation of most thoughts and opinions was a broad consensus on American values.
That said, as much as I love the life-saving benefits of modern medicine, as much as I love computers and cellphones, as much as I love the instant knowledge at my fingertips via the Internet, I am obliged to admit that I’d give it all up if I could climb into a time capsule and go back to the fifties ─ and most people I’ve talked to from that era have expressed similar sentiments.
The people I feel sorry for are those who never had the opportunity to experience America’s Age of Innocence. Perhaps someday the United States will rise from the ashes and make a comeback that will take it through a similar period all over again. And perhaps our children and grandchildren will be the beneficiaries.
In the meantime, Thanksgiving is still a very special day, so let’s enjoy every minute of it.